Poetry at the Post: A Trip to Rouen with May Wedderburn Cannan or “Let’s Give Peace a Chance”

For Veterans Day 2015~

Reposting this poem in memory of the men and women who have suffered and died in war. Let’s say “No More War” and “Give Peace A Chance.” Click here for the video of John Lennon and Yoko singing “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

Rouen
BY MAY WEDDERBURN CANNAN

1893–1973

For the royal entry of Henry II in Rouen, 1 October 1550
For the royal entry of Henry II in Rouen, 1 October 1550

Early morning over Rouen, hopeful, high, courageous morning,
And the laughter of adventure, and the steepness of the stair,

Have you ever traveled to beautiful places where the history of bloody battles, rebellions and executions soaks the stones, the air? You marvel at an historic sight only to discover that most of structure had been burned down or bombed out in a war.

This is how I imagine Rouen, a city with a tortured history going as far back as the Gauls and continuing to massive destruction during World War II. It was here that Joan of Arc was executed in 1431.

Quiet night-time over Rouen, and the station full of soldiers,
All the youth and pride of England from the ends of all the earth;

The poet May Wedderburn Cannan was born in Oxford, England to an intellectual family. In 1915, she spent a month in Rouen helping out at a canteen for soldiers. Her experience in this military supply base during World War I inspired this poem.


Can I forget the passage from the cool white-bedded Aid Post
Past the long sun-blistered coaches of the khaki Red Cross train
To the truck train full of wounded, and the weariness and laughter
And “Good-bye, and thank you, Sister”, and the empty yards again?

Compiègne, France: Château de Compiègne - Musée du Second Empire - Adolphe Yvon: Bataille de Solférino
Compiègne, France: Château de Compiègne – Musée du Second Empire – Adolphe Yvon: Bataille de Solférino

The Red Cross was borne from the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino (June 24, 1859) during the Austro-Sardinian War. In one day, 40,000 soldiers died or were left wounded. In 1867, the first International Conference of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent was held. Austria formed a Red Cross chapter in 1880 and The Hapsburg Empress Elizabeth (or “Sisi”) presided over its inaugural meeting in June of that same year.

Robert Antoine Pinchon, 1905, Le Pont aux Anglais, Rouen, oil on canvas, 38 × 46 cm, private collection
Robert Antoine Pinchon, 1905, Le Pont aux Anglais, Rouen, oil on canvas, 38 × 46 cm, private collection

When the world slips slow to darkness, when the office fire burns lower,
My heart goes out to Rouen, Rouen all the world away;

One thought on “Poetry at the Post: A Trip to Rouen with May Wedderburn Cannan or “Let’s Give Peace a Chance”

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